WILLIAMSVILLE—In the late afternoon of Feb. 5, Tracy Donahue and Peter Rizzo lost nearly all of their belongings in a fire that completely destroyed their Grimes Hill Road home.
Neither was there at the time. The couple split up a few weeks before the fire, and Donahue moved out.
“I left the house at 4 p.m and came back at 8 p.m.,” said Rizzo, who came home to a driveway filled with firetrucks.
All Rizzo has are the clothes he was wearing and the car he was driving when he returned to his home and found it engulfed in flames. Rizzo’s cat, which he adopted from his mother after she died, survived; another cat died in the fire.
“Nobody can say for sure what started it,” he said, but he thinks it may have been the wood stove.
Rizzo, owner of Bhava Yoga Center in Brattleboro, also taught classes in a studio he built in his home. “I put a tremendous amount of love and time into the house,” he said.
“Now I’m living in a cabin alone on Newfane Hill,” while he waits for the insurance check to arrive.
Meanwhile, friends sprang into action, establishing separate crowdfunding donation pages for Donahue and Rizzo.
Tara Mahady-Coltey created a site for Donahue, “Help Yogini Tracy Bounce Back From Losing Her Home To Fire."
Beverly Stone, a friend and student of Rizzo’s, set up the fundraising site, “Peter Rizzo Fire Recovery."
“I saw Peter’s house before he owned it,” said Stone. “It was a total mess,” she said, explaining the structure was “half-finished and falling apart from years of neglect [and] abandonment. Others might have demolished it but Peter poured his heart and soul into it and transformed it into a lovely and inviting sanctuary."
“It just broke my heart when I learned it burned down and took the life of Peter’s kitty Moon who often joined us in yoga classes,” she said.
“Tracy is also a dear friend and I was aware that she suffered the loss of her belongings and many things she cherished as well. I had the idea to do a fundraiser for them as I knew many would want to help,” Stone said. “The response from the community has been nothing short of amazing. Many students, friends, and neighbors have reached out as well as family. Folks who don’t know Peter or Tracy have contributed because everyone gets how devastating fire is.”
“One day you have a home you’ve lovingly cared for that contains all those little things we cherish and the next you have the clothes on your back and your car,” Stone said.
“I built a beautiful sanctuary for myself,” Rizzo said, but cautioned against placing too much of one’s self into material things.
“Yoga tells you that ... it’s all an illusion,” Rizzo said. “My problem was, I bought into it as real. It was not real. I should not have bought into it. Things change. All things change.”